I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with Remembrance Day. Quite apart from the whiteness of it all, which sits uneasily with someone of mixed heritage, I don’t think Britain knows how to remember its dead appropriately.
The rhetoric bothers me. Because if you really think about it, there is no such thing as a war hero. War is never heroic. Yes, people do heroic things during wartime and yes, many die trying to preserve the lives of others. But they do so because some selfish arse – always someone who never sees a day on the battlefield of course – wanted to increase their personal power. And that is the central shame of war. It’s an abomination, something that should never happen. It’s easier to brand people as heroes because it means we can take something positive from their loss. But that doesn’t change the fact that war heroes are as fictional as grubby, benefit scrounging asylum seekers. In war there are only victims – the people who fight and the people they kill and those who lose them; and there are war criminals – the people who start it all.
When we think about the wars of the last century, we shouldn’t remember soldiers for “the sacrifice they made”. We should remember them because they were sacrificed, which is something very different. Sacrificed – along with civilians and animals – to political ambition and compassionless ideology.
WWI was meant to be “the war to end all wars” not because it was a supreme exercise of military might, but because it was a futile and shocking waste of life. And somehow the grandchildren of that generation, who spent their peaceful mid-century Christmases watching WWII shite like The Great Escape, have interpreted wars as part of some glorious past to hanker after instead of an atrocity to avoid. And they have given us anti-European sentiment, increased xenophobia and Brexit because they never learned to contemplate war properly, or to fear it. The way Britain marks Remembrance Day is a big part of that failure. We have strayed too far from “Never Again” and into “Honour Our Lads” territory. But war is a dishonourable thing. I read a quote online which said that the best way to honour war veterans is not to create more of them. I wholeheartedly agree.